Land of storybook castles and dancing houses
RENDEZVOUS  - Christine S. Dayrit () - October 20, 2002 - 12:00am
Of all the countries I’ve visited in Europe, it was only to the Czech Republic that I vowed to return. In recent years, the Czech Republic has become one of Europe’s favorite tourist destinations. The country is nestled in a basin encircled by mountain ranges. Over the centuries, the most important nations of Europe have met here and influenced each other’s destinies. Visitors to the Czech Republic are invariably impressed by the grandeur of its stone palaces, countless statues inhabiting gardens and rooftops, and the intricate winding streets where shops selling Bohemia crystal and valuable porcelain at a bargain abound. Here you will find architectural styles of every era preserved in all its grandeur, as reflected in their historic towns, 111 marvelous castles like Karlstejn or Hluboka, valuable sacred shrines like the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague, remarkable museums like the National Museum (the oldest museum institute in Bohemia) and the National Gallery.

It’s also a haven for printing machines and trams (these Czech coaches are the ones that run on our MRT). The cuisine is delightful, like French food but in bigger portions. It was only in 1989 that the Iron Curtain was lifted and democracy was restored, thus the Czechs are graciously reaching out in warm welcome. It is also relatively much cheaper here than in Western Europe (France, Germany, Austria, etc.) thus one can enjoy all the glorious food, shopping and sightseeing with much more value for your precious dollars. Take note that in two to three years, prices will increase significantly, according to Czech Ambassador Stanislav Slavicky who together with winsome son Adam toured my friend Reesa Guerrero and me around the enchanting city of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.

It is no wonder why Hollywood producers have chosen Prague as the scenic location for flicks like Mission Impossible, Amadeus and Bad Company. Dubbed the Paris of Central Europe, this City of a Hundred Spires and many towns and churches has rightly been entered in the UNESCO world cultural heritage list. The most eminent personalities of science and art since the reign of Emperors Charles IV and Rudolf II have left their indelible imprint in the country’s history. Figures like Mozart, Goethe, Kafka, Einstein, Tycho Brahe, Casanova and Albright are only a few of the famous personalities connected with the Czech lands. If they found inspiration in this beautiful land with a most picturesque landscape, perhaps you will too.

From Salzburg, Austria, Reesa and I took the train to Prague. What we thought would be a smooth train ride turned out to be a hilarious experience. Because we missed our connecting train, we had to change trains twice and buses thrice. I mistakenly got down in Linz (hometown of Hitler) with all my bags. Reesa peeped out from the train carriage yelling, "Get back on the train, this isn’t our stop." I hurriedly lifted all my luggage weighing 170 pounds and instantly realized how people gather so much strength during a fire because after that, I couldn’t lift them again.

Thank heavens the Czech people are so helpful, they carried our bags for us. We were welcomed by Petra Veskrnova in the lovely Deluxe Boutique Hotel Savoy, the best address in Prague as it is located in the exclusive area near the Prague Castle, Church of St. Nicholas, Strahov Monastery and St. Vitus Cathedral, and just 15 minutes from the airport. Behind the original Art Nouveau façade dating from 1882, we enjoyed the elegant comfort and stylish ambience. At the grand Restaurant Hradcany, we had a snack of duck liver parfait with raspberry sauce, stewed pear in white wine and apple dumplings with cider mousse as we prepared for our walking tour around Prague, which has earned the monikers "Magic City," "The Golden City," "The Mother of All Cities."

The beauty of Prague was once compared by poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a vast poem of architecture. Comprising the highest achievements of more than 500 years of interior architecture, the most impressive of all is the Prague Castle which we privately toured with Ambassador Slavicky who used to work with Czech President Havel for a decade. This vast fortified bastion is the center of government and is built around the soaring High Gothic Cathedral of St. Vitus. It embraces not only the Royal Palaces but also several mansions of the Bohemian and Austrian nobility. We even saw the Spanish Hall where our very own Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra performed last year with Ruggero Barbieri as conductor.

After a scrumptious lunch of roast beef with bread dumplings in sour cream sauce with lemon and cranberry preserves, grilled chicken salad and decadent chocolate mousse ice-cream, we toured the other highlights of the city including the famous Charles Bridge, Old Jewish City, Five Synagogues, Church of St. Nicholas and cobble stoned Nerudova. Then we visited the Sto. Niño De Praga in the Church of Our Lady of the Victorious. According to the parish priest Fr. Jerome Moras, the precious wax statue of the Infant Jesus has granted so many miracles as far back as the 13th century. In the 16th century, it was highly venerated as people from all over the world experienced the miraculous blessings from the Holy Infant. It was a difficult struggle during the communist rule but the devotion has continued to spread like wildfire to this day. As a matter of fact, the Czech Republic has gifted the Filipino people with a wax image of the Infant Jesus of Prague. When Czech Republic celebrated the feast of St. Wenceslas (founder of Czech State in the 10th century), Bishop Socrates Villegas, Czech Ambassador Slavicky and Czech Airline managing director Menchie Gregorio unveiled the plaque for the image of the Infant Jesus at our very own Edsa Shrine on Sept. 28 for all to venerate.

Other places of interest one shouldn’t miss are Karlovy Vary, the oldest of the Bohemian spas where visiting composers like Beethoven and Bach enjoyed the famous Becherovka herb liqueur. Litomerice, a Slavic fortress dating back from the 9th century, is the town where our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal met with his friend Prof. Ferdinand Blumentritt, who financed Rizal’s masterpiece Noli Me Tangere. Former President Fidel Ramos was the one who opened the museum which features authenticated originals of their correspondence.

Kutna Hora is the most affluent town of the Middle Ages where one can find the imposing gothic Cathedral of St. Barbara and town of Pilsen which was given exclusive right to brew beer; it now produces the world’s best and most imitated beer. Suffice to say, Pilsen is the oldest kind of European beer with a global influence on the beer industry.

Like a history lesson come alive, a visit to the Czech Republic is a refreshing tale of how a nation has preserved its grandeur. No wonder it is one of Europe’s favorite travel destinations.
* * *
For visa application, call the Czech Embassy at 811-1155, 30th floor Rufino Pacific Tower, Ayala Ave., Makati. For travel arrangements to Prague, contact Lufthansa which flies daily to Prague via Frankfurt (tel. 810-4596, 810-5033) or contact Czech Airlines at 892-6006 or e-mail travex@pacific.net.ph. Hotel Savoy at http://www.hotel-savoy.cz, e-mail info@hotel-savoy.cz.

AMBASSADOR SLAVICKY ART NOUVEAU AYALA AVE BAD COMPANY CHURCH OF ST. NICHOLAS CZECH CZECH REPUBLIC INFANT JESUS PRAGUE PRAGUE CASTLE
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